- Cognition and Evaluation: A Dynamics of Scientific Theories and Experiments, vols. 1 and 2 by Ruey-Lin Chen
Taipei: National Taiwan University Press, 2012. 643 pp. NTD $600.
Cognition and Evaluation: A Dynamics of Scientific Theories and Experiments, the most comprehensive and detailed philosophical study on scientific models and experiments in the Chinese literature, attempts to construct both a dynamic model for the development and evolution of scientific theories and experiments and a theory for the history and philosophy of science.
It would be useful to summarize Cognition and Evaluation by way of six claims that the work makes. First, the development of theories and experiments shares a pattern similar to human families: by the local modification of their structures, predecessors (parents) produce successors (offspring) with family resemblances and differences. Second, the reason and motivation for this pattern are that scientists make cognitive evaluations of preceding theories and experiments, locally modify their internal structures, and then develop their own, new versions. Third, models sit between theories and experiments, whose internal structures must be analyzed through models. Fourth, by structural similarity, we can make cognitive judgments of the binary relation between theories, models, experiments, and the world. What we call the "comparative method" is to analyze the integral structure of theories, models, and experiments and then compare predecessors and successors by corresponding local similarity, so providing a more objective reference architecture for cognitive evaluation. Fifth, scientific activities are multidimensional—we have discovery, structure, growth (development or occurrence), change, social environment, norm, and so on—interrelated in various contexts but irreducible to the dichotomy between the context of discovery and the context of justification. And sixth, we can propose a new cognitive evaluation to guide the future development of science: "to be" (reason and motivation) [End Page 221] and "ought to be" (cognitive evaluation) should interact circularly and constantly (46-47).
Ruey-Lin Chen's discussion of the philosophy of experiment is especially interesting. Following Ian Hacking's new experimentalism, he acknowledges that experiments can have their own lives: their function and goal are not just to test theories, since the observation and interpretation of experiments are relatively independent from theories. The test of an experiment is to reproduce it. Only a valid replication with a high degree of structural similarity can provide confirmation or disconfirmation. Models are the intermediaries both between theories and experiments and between experiments and data (11–13).
The central concept of Cognition and Evaluation is that of the degree of structural similarity. Chen argues that scientists can use relational similarity to define structural correspondence, which finally defines the degree of fit between models. Scientists can, then, always make cognitive evaluations or judgments of any changes in knowledge or practice in mature science, by reference to inner structure (21-26). Chen, to his great credit, provides a plethora of cases to justify his arguments.
Chen also wants to show that there is a pattern underlying the history of theory and experiment and then reconstruct that history according to that pattern. He wants to construct a dynamic model explaining the development of theory and experiment, and to extract and refine scientists' thought modes in promoting that development. He also proposes "philosophical ways of scientific thinking" and argues that cognition and evaluation must always have priority over interests, while nevertheless leaving a position for the role that interests play. Cognition and Evaluation successfully achieves almost all its objectives, with the proviso that the last one could be discussed further. I would here, though, propose some deliberations on cognition and values in science.
Chen acknowledges social factors in the development of science, for example, material or empirical constraints and social resources or constraints. With theorizing and modeling skills, these form the cognitive-social mechanism behind the development of theories and models. He insists, however, that cognitive evaluation is the key driving force (38, 49). In chapter 6 ("Priority of Cognition and Values"), he asserts that "cognition and values" have priority over such social categories as interests, conventions, power...